From Beyond The Shattered Gateway: June’s COTM

This month we interview HoptownGameNight (aka Justin Mason) about his ongoing game night campaign “From Beyond The Shattered Gateway” in all of its marvellously decadent presentation. Long time advocate of Obsidian Portal, Justin claims the title of having the first ever “Campaign of the Month” from way back in 2008 so it’s nice to have him back again.

First and foremost tell us a little bit about yourself if you will.

I’m going to cop out, and just reply with my already over-lengthy Obsidian Portal profile bio… I’m your typical thirty-something geek guy. I’m a professional web developer and website designer by trade and own my own development firm in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. I also am the owner of Mythic Design Role-Playing Games, an independent RPG company. We’ve published about a dozen books in the past five years, though for the past couple of years it’s had to take a back seat to my full-time business (the money-maker). In addition to that, I am also the “technical guru” and developer for AvatarArt.com. I also run Hoptown Game Night, an organized group of gaming enthusiasts from the Hopkinsville area. I’ve been a member of Obsidian Portal for about four years now, though this particular account is a new one I set up specifically for the home-brew Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 campaign I’m running for the Hoptown Game Night group.

It’s been about three years since I seriously ran a full-on campaign, so it’s good to be back in the swing of things. My first “large-scale” campaign here at Obsidian Portal was The Seven Secrets, which concluded back in May of 2008, and was the first ever official “Campaign of the Month.”

I also helped with some of the original design aspects of Obsidian Portal, but the place sure has grown since my last involvement, and it’s a much more inclusive system now than it was four years ago, and keeps growing and becoming more and more useful. I’m glad to be back among friends, and extremely pleased to be DMing a large-scale campaign once more. It’s been three years, and the time for another adventure is long overdue.

Alright, now let’s be honest – looking at this phenomenal campaign page it’s obvious that you are skilled enough that you could be doing your own thing as far as documenting your campaign world. Why exactly do you use obsidian portal?

The primary reason I use Obsidian Portal is convenience. Both from the aspect of usability, and on going maintenance. From my perspective, that’s really the driving force behind, and primary benefit, of the service. Plus, it’s nice to have a service-based solution where the application upkeep, upgrades, server maintenance and development new features are handled by a team of programmers instead of just myself.

We all keep pretty hectic schedules, and it’s hard to find time to keep detailed info about the campaign on a public medium that everyone can access. I don’t get to update our campaign wiki even 1/10th as much as I would like to, but without Obsidian Portal, it would just simply be impossible. There are several other great benefits to using Obsidian Portal such as the community, the ease of networking with players, the blog, and now Haste!, the new podcast. But to me, those are just icing on the cake.

So tell us a little bit about “Beyond the Shattered Gateway”

The original line of thought for this campaign was, “What would happen if I started off a large group of first level characters that are all royal heirs, nobility, and very important individuals, and let them begin their adventure with epic magical items and a heroic legendary quest right off the bat?” This is usually where most campaigns get to the point of gearing down for a wrap-up with higher-level characters. But, what if instead, this is where it all begins?

The challenge was trying to achieve a balance that kept the campaign action, and overall plot, from being too much like the typical “Hero, this is thy quest” scenario of video games, and also provide a way to logically progress the characters at a moderated pace so everyone could connect to the many personae. There is no singular plot to the campaign, but rather a series simultaneous plots in the world in which the characters just happen to exist. “Beyond the Shattered Gateway” is the result of that line of reasoning.

Of course, those epic magical items would be too powerful for them to wield, but assuming that those magical items (intelligent, of course) were willing to work with those wielding them, the power could be gradually increased as the characters progressed in levels.
In the story line, these items evolved into the “Nine Sacred Receptacles” which are artifacts dating back to prehistory. They are intelligent artifacts that have been used for millennia to literally choose the heirs of each of the Nine Houses of the Nine Nations of Nymril. The primary player-characters are the current “Birthrights,” or those who have been chosen by the Receptacles to become the future leaders of their world.

Throw in an ill-omened prophecy from the world’s most revered oracle, a massive demon attack that destroys an entire nation in a single night, an ongoing war with a united tribe of 25,000+ orcs, a secret mission charged by the oracle herself, the presumed death of a queen, an evil lich lord that commands a cult of necromancers and an army of countless undead wraiths, a dark and secretive order of artificers that are above the law of all nations, rogue political agents seeking power by any means necessary, a fallen order of knights represented by a spectral ghost knight, an ancient legend of hero giants, a mysterious mute girl who doesn’t seem to be able to completely die, unexplained flames upon a reach of mountain tops, mysterious, isolated city of dark elves that seem to be somehow involved in everything, and you have the first half-dozen game sessions of the campaign… No wonder the Nymrilian historians refer to the current era as the Age of Despair.

How many players do you currently have, how long/well have you known them?

The current campaign consists of six full-time players, and a couple of part-time players. For example, one of our part-time players is enlisted in the Army, and stationed out of state. However, I’ve created a recurring NPC role that allows him to game with us when he’s home on leave.

The group is pretty diversified when it comes to my association with them. One player I’ve known and have gamed with for about 18 years, one is my younger brother, another my best friend who I’ve gamed with off-and-on for about 15 years, a few were co-workers at past employers and some I’ve only know for a year or two. Overall, we’re a well formed group, and the myriad of personalities and backgrounds seem to mesh really well for gaming.

I see you’re using D&D 3.5 is there a reason you haven’t made the choice to move to pathfinder?

I really like the Pathfinder platform, and actually do own several of the books and modules. I also own most of the new 4th Edition D&D materials as well. However, my library of official Dungeons & Dragons 3.x Books consists of every rule book, module, guide and supplement Wizards of the Coast, LLC published for the system. And, I have extra copies of the core rules for the players, as well as a few bookcases filled to the brim with OGL d20 content as well. It just made sense to utilize what is most readily available and on-hand, and it’s what several of my players were most familiar with.

Also, one of my ongoing back-burner design projects is the development of a new game platform that’s unique, yet will be compatible with 3.x Fantasy Role Playing (sort of an extremely flexible, rules-light version). It will be a free-to-the-public platform, so, what better opportunity to build an in-depth setting that can be used by the new game system (or any other existing 3.x-based system) than actually playing it out, and documenting it at Obsidian Portal? It’s just one more channel I’m using to motivate myself to try and maintain highly detailed logs, and keep adding new world info to the setting.

I see Hoptown Game Night mentioned a lot (as well as your username) can you tell us a little bit about it and how it started?

Hoptown Game Night is a very new idea. It’s a local project I started about two-months back. Here in Hopkinsville, Kentucky (a.k.a. Hoptown) there is a fairly large gaming community, but it’s heavily splintered into many smaller groups that rarely interact with one another. We don’t have a comic shop, book store, or really any sort of gamer-friendly hub close by, so my idea was to start something that could provide a solution to those issues. It’s not something that fits everyone, but at the least it’s a good starting point to meet other gamers and like minded individuals, and plan larger group-based gaming events.

Right now it’s very loosely formed, with only about a dozen members, but we do hold scheduled events, like our monthly Anime Night, and this campaign, which is also an “official” event of HTGN.

I have some substantial future plans us as time and funds permit. I wholeheartedly believe the organization can positively impact the gaming community here in Hopkinsville and surrounding areas, but for now we’re still in a “creation phase” of sorts and working out all the details as we operate from event-to-event.

Is your campaign only for said game night or is it ran at other times as well?

Right now, all game sessions are announced on the campaign wiki home page, and those are the only game sessions I’m running. Though we are managing to game about 2-3 times per month. To expand a bit further on the setting of Nymril; over the years I’ve run several long-term epic campaigns, and for each plot, I created an entirely new world in at least moderate detail. However, I’ve changed my outlook on this, and have decided that I would rather invest extensive time into a single setting, fleshing it out as much as possible into a sort of “living” campaign world. I now plan on using Nymril as my primary setting for future campaigns and one-shot game sessions that I DM/GM.

Any other games that you play (as far as RPG’s go) or hobbies/interests that you have that added to your DM’ing ability?

I’ve pretty much always been a gamer, and it’s been pretty focused on Dungeons & Dragons. I started playing “Basic D&D” as well as “1st Edition AD&D” back in the late eighties and early nineties, and have just continued to do so as the genera and editions evolve. Some how, 99/100 times I end up playing the part of Dungeon Master, and the role has kind of stuck over the years.

I’m also an avid retro gamer, and collect and replay old-school RPG’s and Fantasy Adventure games from the old consol systems, and early PC gaming (think everything from Bards Tale, Dungeon Might, and Ultima to Wizardry, Final Fantasy and Dragonquest).

I’ve also always been partial to the text-based MUDs dating back to the early days of the internet. I played MUDs as ANSI-based door games on many local BBS system before the internet was available, and started the same pretty much as soon as I obtained my first internet access though a local ISDN. MUD’s just provide an element of creativity, imagination, and role-play that modern multi-player games just completely fail to capture.

In fact, one of my very first programming projects I undertook as a young teen was the development of a turn-based, text-based fantasy RPG door game. I literally owe my career and livelihood to Dungeons & Dragons (and fantasy gaming in general). Creating new worlds is what drove me down the path of becoming a professional programmer to begin with.

I still play in a text-based MUD several times a week: Gemstone IV by Simutronics, which has a pretty expansive world, and incredibly detailed past. The game has been ongoing continuously with thousands of players and hundreds of GM’s since way back in the Genie and Pre-AOL days. I’ve played GS4 off-and-on for about 13 years now.

I think all of these have added greatly in one way or another to my “DM Toolbox”, and provide me with ample examples to pull out a loose plot seed or path when needed.

Being a longtime user of Obsidian Portal, and seeing its changes over the years are you happy with the direction the site is going?

Absolutely! I like the balanced approach Obsidian Portal takes towards adding new features. Application updates are done thoughtfully, and well paced. Releases are timed as not to overwhelm non-technical users, but still frequent enough to keep any code-guru fiddling with the scripting behind his or her wiki.

If there were any one thing you could do to improve/change OP what would it be?

Well for one, I’d like to see an “insert item” option on the RTE for wiki pages, similar to what is there now for characters and other wiki pages. Also, a global CSS area to allow the option for custom classes; it would make formatting tons easier. Okay, so that’s two, but I really want them both, and couldn’t pick between the two.

Lastly, give us your best DM pearl of wisdom in a sentence or two, go!

Don’t ever be afraid to abandon your planned story line. Players tend to know when they’re being herded, and an obvious/forced plot can make for a stale adventure. Sometimes a nice diversion from the main storyline, driven by the players, can be exactly what’s needed to get everyone more focused on the over all story arch.


Well folks that’s it, be sure step up and nominate yourself or others you deem deserving of Campaign of the Month greatness in the forums. We’ll see you next time!

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'

Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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